Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where do Black Women Come First? Not at Essence

For most of its forty plus years, Essence has been the leading magazine for black women across the nation. Its readers appreciated their coverage on lifestyle, culture, beauty and news. With black women so greatly underrepresented in mass media- specifically the magazine industry-Essence served as an important platform for us to freely express our visions, ideas and concerns while highlighting issues that were most important to us. I grew up with Essence and was always comforted when I saw women who looked like me, boasting with success and holding positions of power. The magazine itself was reflective of just that- black, female empowerment.

Operative word= was

Last year, Essence magazine received plenty of uproar after hiring Ellianna Placas, a white woman as their new fashion director. The criticism varied. Some were weary of a white woman whose previous work with mainstream (i.e.- white-centric) publications- Us Weekly and O: The Oprah Magazine- would be too accustomed to the cultural norms of beauty (i.e.- euro-centrism). Others were more concerned with the mere fact that a white woman was awarded a prominent position of power at a magazine that was built of black female empowerment.

I agreed with the above concerns but negated the issue's importance. After all? Ellianna is just in charge of fashion and she is the lone white person in charge.

Correction= was

It was just announced today that Essence hired Michael Bullerdick, a white male, as their managing editor. I have scoured the internets trying to find out more information about him but was only able to find his Linkedin where it details his extensive career in print media. He was the managing editior at American Media, PawPrint Magazine and Celebrity Living. Needless to say that despite his qualifications, many are disappointed by the recent hire.

In response, editor-n-chief Constance White responded saying, "Michael is responsible for production and operational workflow. He has no involvement in editorial content."

The absurdity of it all!

It is as if the old adage "Buy Black!" has lost its relevance. Perhaps this is the direction our post-racial society is going in. If so, then black people have a lot to worry about. Ms. White implies that the last two hires' color were irrelevant and that they were chosen because of their talents, expertise and experience. How many black women hold Michael and Ellianna's respective titles in magazines in general? Very, very few. Do too few black women lack such talent and expertise? Let us assume that statement to be true. Shouldn't then a magazine heralded for its history of empowerment reward the few black women qualified for leading positions?

I guess what I'm concerned about is the assumed juxtaposition of quality with solidarity. It is only since the last two years where Essence apparently had to "seek out" to find editors who qualified. I am not buying it. Instead, I believe less importance is being placed on supporting are fellow sisters. Perhaps I'm being unfair. Or maybe my beliefs are outdated. However, the lack of enterprise within the black community is alarming. In our hoods, the liquor stores are Asian, the chicken shacks are Middle Eastern, the delis are South Asian and more and more of the hair salons are Dominican. We own virtually nothing.

And I refuse to believe it is because of our collective lack of skill or talents. It is because of our inability to provide each other with support systems that would allow businesses to thrive. Essence has survived for forty plus years by putting black women first. What changed? Our skill level? Doubtful. In this post-racial society, I am inclined to believe its our consciousness.

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